LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners on Monday allocated money to try to offset any hardship for families that might result from a delay in the receipt of assistance from the Department of Social Services during the implementation of a new food and nutrition services computer system.
Board members unanimously voted in favor of providing $10,000 to be used to help in the most serious cases. The money would be distributed in $50 vouchers and the county would not be reimbursed, according to County Manager Ricky Harris.
The commissioners also approved a request by DSS officials that county employees who supply 10 non-perishable food items as part of a food drive receive administrative leave time. The food will be stored at the Robeson County Community Church and Community Center, which is helping administer the drive.
Anthony Dial, administrator for the food stamp program, told the commissioners that case workers at the Department of Social Services are working to convert the county’s 23,000 cases of food stamp recipients to the new program, NC FAST. The new system goes on line Monday, the date set by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which is requiring that all counties in the state adopt the new filing system.
“We don’t want anyone to panic,” Dial said, “but we want to make people aware that they should stockpile food and make other preparations in case their food stamp benefits are temporarily delayed.”
Dial and Becky Morrow, director of the Department of Social Services, both said that there is no way to say exactly how long delays could be. They said some counties have reported delays as long as two months, but called that a worst-case scenario.
“We’re adopting this system with what we’ve learned from other counties,” Morrow said. “There’s been a lot of stress over this for our staff. We don’t want people to go without food … . We will do everything in our power to help these people.”
Commissioners Jerry Stephens and Hubert Sealey both told the DSS officials to use the assistance from the county to first help those in the most need.
Stephens also emphasized that the public should be aware that any delay in food stamps would not be the fault of the county. It’s a state-mandated computer system change that the county commissioners have no control over, he said.
“This is not something the county commissioners did or did not do,” he said. “This is totally out of our control.”
Fifty temporary employees have been hired at DSS to assist in getting the county’s 23,000 food stamp cases into the new computer system. Morrow told commissioners that she may need to come back and request more temporary help to get the job done quickly.
In other business, the commissioners:
— Approved the purchase of five acres in the Gaddys Precinct at a cost of $30,000. According to Commissioner Hubert Sealey, whose district includes Gaddys Precinct, the property will be used for a “special project.”
— Held a public hearing and approved incentives for a new industry considering locating in Robeson County. The industry, designated as “Project Flow,” includes an investment of $1 million in building and machinery. It is expected to create 40 jobs with an average wage of $15 an hour plus benefits. No one from the public made any comments during the hearing.
— Gayle Fernandez, executive director of Robeson County Community Development Corporation, briefly updated the commissioners on statewide foreclosure-prevention programs and the work her agency has been doing to assist families in Robeson County.
— Approved two conditional-use permit requests that will allow the operation of Internet video sweepstakes businesses. The first permit was granted to Connie Baker, of Back Swamp, and allows the sweepstakes business with gaming machines to operate on a 2.5-acre tract in a Residential Agricultural District. The second permit was granted to Kalee Masaid, of Pembroke, for an Internet sweepstakes business with gaming machines to operate on a two-acre tract in a Highway Commercial District.
— Approved a conditional-use permit request by Karen Price, of West Howellsville, that allows for the licensed sale and auction of firearms on a 10.77-acre tract in a Highway Commercial District.